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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ayodhya is religious, not political now

By Swapan Dasgupta

A minor footnote to the recent public discussions on the Ayodhya controversy may be an eye opener for those who argue that India has "moved on".

A TV presenter with 'liberal' sympathies wrote on Twitter: "Whether or not Lord Ram is the rightful owner or a divine encroacher is…unlikely to be settled in a hurry." It was a harmless tweet marked by an impish turn of phrase. Unfortunately, a section of the twitterati didn't read "divine encroacher" so indulgently. They were outraged. Rather than risk an ugly controversy, the writer wisely decided to delete the tweet and 'move on'.

That Indians are disinclined to lace their earnestness with self-deprecating humour is well known. Also quite marked is their ability to take offence too easily, particularly on matters of faith and history. It does not require a Pope Benedict XVI to tell Indians, as he told Britons last week, to restore the "legitimate role of religion in the public square." Organised religion has never departed from India mohullas, so much so that 'secularism' has had to be expediently re-defined to suit Indian tastes.

What, therefore, underpins the proclamation that contemporary India has 'moved on' and broken decisively with its own past? There may be a justified reason for believing that the frenzied mobilisation witnessed during L.K. Advani's rath yatra and the fateful December 6, 1992 kar seva won't recur today. To link this wariness to a growing indifference to 'public' religion and a rising tide of secularisation (in the Western sense) is, however, facile.

Except to a clutch of sadhus who are still fighting the good fight, the Ayodhya movement wasn't merely about reclaiming Ram's desecrated inheritance. The largest-ever mobilisation of Hindus as Hindus was a robust assertion of political identity and an argument against being taken for granted politically. Ram was merely the symbol of the explosion, not its rationale.

As with many unstructured mass movements, not everything about the Ayodhya turmoil was enduring. The demolition didn't trigger either a revolution or a regime change; it merely heralded the end of Congress dominance and a change of government from 1998 to 2004. It nurtured Hindu pride but couldn't insulate this new nationalism from the challenge of caste assertion. And on the negative side, Hindu aggression fuelled Muslim angst which subsequently fed into the global churning in the ummah.

Yet, there is one legacy of Ayodhya that has withstood political ups and downs and India's transition from insularity to globalisation: Hindus have ceased to be defensive about their faith and ritual practices. Indeed, they revel in these with astonishing cockiness.

The phenomenon needs some explanation. Sustained exposure to foreign rule and Western 'enlightenment' had shaken the cultural self-confidence of the Hindu educated classes. The impression that their faith and ritual practices were somehow 'backward' and deficient in the index of modernity took hold of the enslaved Hindu imagination. Mahatma Gandhi, always a proud Hindu, contested the degradation by challenging modernity itself. However, being excessively practical, Hindu society found Gandhi's anti-modernity to be utopian and quietly brushed it aside.

In rejecting Gandhi's crankiness, Jawaharlal Nehru swung to the other extreme. A product of Western cosmopolitanism, he reinforced the elite discomfiture with popular Hinduism. In the Nehruvian ideal, being a good Hindu meant being a 'secularised' Hindu. It meant upholding abstruse, metaphysical traditions and spurning Bhagwati Jagrans as the Hinduism of clerks and Class IV employees.

This social snobbery was a factor behind the elite incomprehension of the Ayodhya movement. And it is a similar revulsion which makes them posit the apparent absurdity of a Ram Janmabhoomi to the cool, tech-savvy cosmopolitanism of the New India.

The irony is that this New India is more religiously and assertively Hindu than ever before. Judging by the sharp increase in middle class pilgrimages, the exaggerated sindoor of the new bride, the frequency of car pujas in temples and the holy wallpaper in the laptops of the young and successful, the sharp rise in national self-confidence has come in the wake of a spectacular revival of the Sanatan Dharma.

India has 'moved on'. In the 1990s, Ayodhya was a political issue; today its importance is religious. The implications are ominous.

Sunday Times of India, September 26, 2010


Anonymous said...

Thank God for a brilliant Swapan Dasgupta who not only understands all the intricate nuances but also capably articulates them !!

The entire writeup is simply lucid !

One RajaRajaChozhan could achieve so much ONLY oowing to the Grace of Lord Ssiva.

During His reign mohammed gazni pillaged the North but RajaRajaChozhan ensured the marauders did not touch the South.

There were no IIT IIM graduates. YET such architectural wonders & phenomenal agricultural output that mighty Elephants were used for ploughing !!

I repeat everything was made possible only because He was a genuine Ssiva Bhaktha not pseudos like today's indian rulers.

As a nation endowed with tunnel vision , we are besooted with this anachronistic commonwealth games.As though its chimerical glory can be salvaged by hotchpotch hosting of CWG.

The mainstream English media does not even care to report about the damage being done in Thiruvaanaikkaaval & SriKaalahasthy Temples.

Time & tide wait for no man. So hindus should trounce both predatory evangelicals & inimical muslims within India.

Evangelicals who were ridiculing us Hindus as pagans have craftily come up with an Icon of Jesus in lotus pose with rosary beads & kamandalu in either hands;))

Plagiarised our Srimad Bhagavatham & have churned out a churchianised "Yesu Bhagavatham". Even have the gall to challenge & claim all our Hindu Sacred Texts are actually (sic)theirs. Now sport flowers in hair , gold mangalsutra naming themselves Dhamayanthi , Nalaayini etc.

Why such abhorrent duplicity ??

You have mentioned about " caste ".

Now there are too many castes & castes within castes all wantonly engineered by politicians & vested interests. Hence Hindus need not feel responsible as our Vedas make no mention of these.

Not a single Indian politician or alleged celeb takes a step forward without being " protected by bodyguards ". So much for their trust in All Pervading God who supposedly "exists in their hearts".

That way Equality is something which is unattainable in this phenomenal world.

It exists only at the level of Brahman.

Anonymous said...

Perceptive article. The people with holy wallpapers in laptops are aware that it is largely they who are building this "New India", while 'liberal' TV presenters are merely the ones who are claiming to represent it.

Anonymous said...

Excerts cont'd:-

" A Hindu prides himself on being peace-loving and non-violent. But this has always been a violent world with history itself being written in blood. Much of this strife has been wrought by expansionist and exclusivist religions out to conquer the rest of humanity for the sake of their sole ‘true’ God. Such violence is a continuing phenomenon with terror and proxy wars replacing pitched battles. Whither non-violence in the face of such onslaught? Now, if non-aggression is non-violence, and I think that is the true meaning, Hindu India can be truly proud, for it has never invaded another land to spread Hinduism. But is impotence in the face of blatant aggression non-violence? Or is it just cowardice? Do the Saviour’s children show the other cheek in deference to their mentor? Do the mullahs and their minions take even imagined slights lying down?

The freedom struggle was not a civilisational uprising though Jinnah made it one for his co-religionists. The Ayodhya movement was perhaps the only such mobilisation, but its momentum too could not be sustained. That’s probably because those who rode the rath to Ayodhya for the sake of Rama soon rode on the road to Delhi for their own coronations leaving Rama in exile. But is it not also because Rama’s subjects feel their Lord can take care of Himself just as they are all busy taking care of themselves? Well, suffice to say that this is in sharp contrast to many nations with far lesser antiquity, which all still sought out their civilisational roots upon gaining political freedom!

...A Hindu cherishes colonial vestiges in all glee. Is it because he is forgiving or just forgetful? He indulges imperial impositions which were actually intended as insults. Is it owing to supreme sanguineness or servile stupidity? He swallows without a hiccup the history written by his conquerors. Is it because he has lost the faculty of inquiry or is just not interested? He pats himself for pluralism; But does this plurality actually refer to the many streams within Hinduism or should it be extended to non-inclusive faiths?

He is always the pacifist, rarely the activist, even when his all is at stake; ever the spectator, never the player, even when his own motherland becomes the playground. Has this mute-mode made Hindus morally superior or more miserable? "

Anonymous said...

Dear Swapan,
The question of India having 'moved on' lies in it's provocations. The same liberal commentator whom you speak of, has a history of making provocative statements. against the Hindu right. Perhaps, her oxford background and it's inbuilt elitism makes her the 2010 version of the leftist person whom you referred to in it's previous article.

Incidentally, this is the same commentator who never uses the word 'Islamic terror' but bandies 'Saffron terror' all the time.

In 2001, I was happy with my India. It was growing. I thought caste was fading. But, the Media seems to be more casteist than the common man.

You should expect a reaction to it.

Also, the new India has access to more resources with the Internet. The AIT(Aryan Invasion theory) is getting disproved rapidly. This sparks a significant Hindu revivalism.

So, we should not underestimate the Ayodhya response.

Mahesh said...


I totally agree with your view that the whatever happened to the Babri structure was an assertion of the Hindu political identity more than anything else and as you pointed out Lord Ram was a symbol of this movement. And for all the parties involved (the hindus, the muslims and champions of secularism-pun intended!) the entire issue is nothing but political. And I have been seeing you in many television debates and I agree with you on the point that many "new" India's have come and gone since the 16th century but this issue has remained forever. Hence to say that the so called "new" India has better priorities is a misplaced argument. Infact all over the world including our Kashmir it can be observed that it is the youth that is protesting on the streets and pelting stones.

ravinder said...

This 'moved on' is just a taquiya for unwillingness to take up responsibility of being a part of history. If the people who are uplauding 'moved on' ideas are really that much into it, then they should bear the will to tell what to move on from and what to move on to.

mzsadicote said...

@bdutt, A felony was committed 1949 when the mosque was broken into by Hindu bigots, just like the unconstitutional Shilanyas that was abetted by the Rajiv Gandhi administration, and the murder of the constitution that was committed in 1992. Things couldn't be plainer, the course of action as prescribed by the constitution, and the truth we have sworn by, is clear, however much the bigot may try to obscure the issue. That the majority and the administration and the judiciary even mull seeking to justify these atrocities in the name of faith, Hindutva or pseudo-nationalism, or whatever they imagine occurred before 15th August 1947, reflects the mentality of this nation. I marvel at your hypocrisy and seriously doubt your secular credentials.

Panchajanya said...

Brilliant.. bang on Target

Dinesh PC said...

Simply superb, Swapan-da!

Anonymous said...

The genesis of the movement lied in appeasement of the minority community, a problem that has been compounded by a false sense of global victimhood cultivated by the so-called liberals. The aspirations of the Indian middle class will probably require a closer economic and political alignment with the West, and this will constantly clash with the religious identity of the dominant minority community. What will happen then is anybody's guess.....

ashok pai said...

The article is spot on - especially about the Hindu sanatan dharma revival

captainjohann said...

Dear Swapan,
I was there at the unbroken Structure on 4th Dec 1992.To me it was a shock to see the four black granite karpoori stones on the walls of the central dome which was pure yellowish white. Of course pooja was going on but the deity was a south Indian photo of Lord Shri Krishna.The whole walls of the structure as well as the foot paths were paved with rectangular mosaic tiles in memory of various departed souls of Hindu relatives.
The local Muslim constable told me that the structure was given in 1949 itself to local Hindus as local Muslims knew IT WAS NOT A MOSQUE BECAUSE IT HAD NO PLACE FOR ABLUTION(washing).But then I was sitting in Delhi and had entirely a different opinion as i saw only the 3 domes in every news paper.No photographs of 4 black granites, nor about mosaic tiles nor about other issues.I am sure every Indian Muslim who didnot visit Ayodhya had this wrong premise as the one I had.Now I know Muslim Indian Shabuddin and his Hindu counterparts were playing a deadly game by not informing the innocent Muslims of India and other Hindus about this fact.I think the destruction was a plot so that the evidence is destroyed altogether.
People may gloat that the area at center is given to Hindus but ultimate victory will come only if India and Bharath and mostly Indian Muslims accept this fact that the structure was NOT a Mosque but a Victory structure.

Rajiv said...

No question of 'moving on' on religious matters of this stature & significance the way congress mouthpiece media tried to propagate idiotically. I 've closely followed the reaction of people on all media and social-networking sites (thru comments) and observed that the large majority of them were literally furious over this propaganda of 'India has moved on' wrt core Ayodhya movement.

This dispute is going on for nearly 300 yrs, it's a loooong period, just imagine how many times this argument of 'moving on' would have come during that period .. how many different new and young generations would have come and gone, and everytime people would have choosen to continue the agitation for it until the justice is done, and hence we still have the Ayodhya issue open in public domain today. The point is India was / is / will always remain a religious society (undeniable reality), and people do not easily forget religious things of this stature & significance until it reaches to its logical conclusion. This is not some sort of wishful thinking, it's my practical calculation.

Infact the very young generation of present time too, who assumably might not have heard much about Ayodhya movement of 90s, would have NOW known quite a bit about it bcoz of this development of high-court verdict and the full media coverage it received. So in a way .. this verdict itself has revived the Ayodhya movement in a new way in young generation.